Annapolis to LaRochelle.
Annapolis to LaRochelle.Report Abuse
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step” in my case it was a road trip to Annapolis for the boat show, from Worcester MA to Maryland, a pilgrimage of sorts. Where else can you get on so many boats in so little time for the price of admission, think Toyland for nautical boys and girls, a dreamscape for most, an opportunity for a few.
While traveling down 95 South a little past Baltimore, with the hassels of New York traffic and the New Jersey Turnpike behind us, it became a gentler place, the sun was warmer and the skies cleared, my friend who had never been to boat show asked a very reasonable question that seemed incredibly ludicrous at that moment. “ Do you think you will buy a boat in Annapolis?”
“Absolutely not!” I replied. “What, me write a check for a boat this weekend, are you nuts.”
I am a seasoned boat show aficionado, having faithfully attended Newport, Stamford, Annapolis, and even Miami and Ft. Lauderdale shows on occasion. The thought never occurred to me to buy something but…, there was one boat I was itching to touch, to smell, to walk about and on. I would truly love to own that boat if it was all it was supposed to be.
Then it struck me - an epiphany of sorts. Why couldn’t I buy a boat? What the hell was I waiting for? The thought stayed with me for the rest of the ride like a frisky Boston terrier attached to your pant leg, it wouldn’t let go.
Annapolis is a Southern Colonial seaport, think Newport with a drawl, a bay not an ocean, the Naval Academy, not Mansions. It’s a great town and by the way it is the Capitol of Maryland. The boat show is a merry-go-round, you circulate among the docks, climbing aboard the many painted ponies. I wanted to get aboard the catamarans, specifically the Fountain Pajot Mahe 36, an entry level Cat. I had read a positive review several months ago and wanted to see for myself.
The Mahe is a French Cat, it felt like a boat not like a condo. She has enough living area for two couples, lots of freeboard, a fine entry, relatively narrow hulls, twin Volvo diesels, weight mostly centered, and a generous sail plan, OK, OK, I fell in love. I wanted to marry this boat, we would be together thru thick and thin, thru lulls and tempests. I felt if I took care of her, she would take care of me.
So the wheels began to spin and my life was altered.
How much? How do you calculate a real dollar value? The amount is not arrived at easily. There is the base boat cost, the sail away boat, and the cost of the boat you will end up buying. And of course, all these cost only go up.
Well these were exciting times, after getting on all the other Cats and some non Cats I still came back to this boat. Now the hook. The boat show special, if I were to purchase/write a check/ make a deposit/ spill my blood, I would be offered all sorts of financial inducements. Hard bottom inflatable with 6 hp engine, folding props, large bimini, electronic package etc. Wow, but I haven’t even sailed on the boat! No problem just fly to Paris, get on the train to LaRochelle, come tour the factory, meet the boys and go for a test sail and if you buy the boat we will pay for your airfare. Wow! Paris, LaRochelle, fine wine , great food, pouty French women and a boat ride!
Seventeen days later I am on a 747 headed to Paris. My fortune is still intact. At worst I get to go to La Rochelle for a boat ride and all the other amenities that France has to offer. At best is- well, a little frightening: the prospect of a life altering adventure of epic proportions. I am riding on an emotional roller coaster with large swings up and down. I tell myself to be careful, be diligent, do your homework, because this is serious stuff. Before I left home, I surfed, studied, consulted. I found few answers but some guidelines.
The flight is an exercise in sleep deprivation and Charles De Gaul airport and the surrounding terrain are a navigational nightmare, you are in a world where few people can be counted on to offer guidance. They speak French in France.
After collecting my belongings and clearing customs it was the Air France bus to Montparnase station to La Rochelle. Train travel is much more common in Europe and they do a good job at it, after refreshing myself at the train station with coffees and a pastry it was time to get aboard.
My ticket had a coach and a seat number. I found my coach, but I couldn’t figure out which seat was mine - the aisle or the window. I took the aisle, very soon a young mademoiselle informed me that I was seated in her seat so I took the window. I was very tired and I found myself falling asleep on the train, nodding into a open mouthed type of temporary seated slumber that apparently frightened my companion, Maybe I was snoring. C’est la vie. She found another seat. C’est dommage. Last stop: La Rochelle, outside the train station I found a taxi to the hotel which turned out to be within easy walking distance. I check in, and after a shower, and another nap in a more suitable environment, I took a stroll about the Old Town.
La Rochelle is a gem. La Belle Rebel or something like that. The old harbor and town are majestic. The harbor entrance is guarded by twin towers, the chain tower and a fort, stone sentinels that protected the ships and town from roving British sea dogs and for a time the infamous Cardinal Richelieu sans le Musketeers.
The tides are huge, something to due with the Bay of Biscayne, 20-plus feet up and down. It goes from mud flats to 20-plus feet of water, some of the harbors in town are protected from those extremes by locks. A very inventive place.
La Rochelle's main charm is the "Vieux Port" or Old Harbor, which is at the heart of the city. The waterfront is lined with restaurants and cafes all offering picturesque views of the harbor. Behind the waterfront lies the Old Town, populated with 200-to 500 year old buildings threes or four stories high, some overhanging the sidewalks. The buildings styles run the gamut, from Tudor to Gothic to Neo Classical. It is an easy place to get lost in. The streets are a labyrinth and usually lead to one of the many squares, complete with statues of some important person from the past. The town hall is a fantastic building- part fortress, part villa. The piazza is lined with column and statues. The old town has been well-preserved with various diversions, shops, restaurants and more restaurants and cafes.
My first day in La Rochelle was an eyeful; I provisioned myself out for the next day, which was the reason for this whole expedition: the promised factory tour and boat ride.
I awoke rather early the next day, still on Boston time. It was dark at 7:00 a.m. I later discovered that La Rochelle is on the same latitude as Montreal, yet with a milder climate. Strong French coffee and pastries, a little yogurt and fruit and I was in fine form.
I meet with Gregor Tarjan, the broker and representative for Fountain Pajot in the lobby. I had meet Gregor several time at other boat shows, he is a sailor, an author, and a family man with many passions. It was his idea to come to France. He was also meeting another client, Larry who was purchasing an 60’ Eleuthrea cat. A few handshakes, a few nods and off to the factory we went. The factory is a few miles inland which makes commissioning of the boats that much more interesting. It is not uncommon to see large catamarans on trucks with lifts, traveling the road to the harbor.
The factory is a sprawling complex of half a dozen buildings producing the many models that Fountain Pajot offers. Outside of most buildings were completed boats waiting to be commissioned. I was surprised to see the boats balancing on their skegs without the aid of any poppits and the depth of the skegs indicating possibly good tracking and a balanced boat. Walking beneath the boats gives you a better appreciation of their size, dimension and form. So far so good.
As we entered the main office building Gregor informed me that the American flag flying outside was specifically there because of my appearance, I thought that that was damn patriotic of them. Everyone was very nice, Badges were presented, coffee offered and the tour began.
The buildings were clean, the work flow appeared efficient and the workers were all working. Henry Ford would have been proud. I saw what appeared to be a small production line with the boats [Mahe 36] in various stages of completion. From the gang way to the far right was the injection mold, processing the entire top of this boat. I was informed that this was one of the largest molded sections being done today in the world. Next to that was a completed hull being fitted with structural stringers. Next to that was another hull and deck joined and various projects being attended to. Next to that another boat closer to completions, with engines installed, wiring being attended to. Next to that was still another boat in the final stages of completion, the finishing touches being applied. I was impressed by the workman like way the boats were being assembled, the workers knew what was expected of them and the process continued.
Infusion was a crucial option adopted by the Fountaine Pajot shipyard. The entire structure of the boat is built up in layers of dry-bonded fabric. Under vacuum, the resin is able to penetrate into every empty space in a single operation.
All the catamarans are built from a sandwich structure with a core of PVC foam laminated under vacuum. Outer skins are made of a laminate of fiberglass fabrics and powder binder mats applied by hand with an isophtalic polyester resin. The core of the sandwich is satisfied under vacuum leaving cross-linking at regular intervals between the two skins to ensure proper adhesion The construction of Fountaine Pajot catamarans includes verifications at every stage in conformity with ISO 9001. The fiberglass fabrics are checked before use and each stage of lamination is followed by an inspection. Pressure during vacuum gluing operations is continuously measured by means of manometer and the quality of the result is systematically checked over the whole glued surface. The advantages of this process are numerous, weight savings and structural integrity are two that come to mind.
[Note to editor: The technological information was gathered from the web site.]
Once assembled, the boats are then brought to and inserted into the water tank; dozens of hoses then spay water continuously on all exposed parts of the boat to check for leaks- part of the quality control process.
Well I had been there for most of the morning, what I saw looked impressive, but I had still yet to go sailing. The ride was scheduled for 2:00 p.m. but is was now lunch time, Eric Bruneel invited us to join him for lunch. Eric is the General Director of Fountain Pajot, I had meet him at the show in Annapolis. He is also a professional sailor who raced his Trimarane, Tri-logic in the last Transat, handily winning the 50’ division. He also raced the Route de Rheum finishing a solid second. He was very focused and informative and believes that the Mahe is an evolutionary boat. Combing the lessons from the Tobago and others, with newer building techniques, materials, and finer lines and less weight, makes this a cat with legs, I was hoping to find out soon.
The marina in LaRochelle was surprisingly chock full of boats, I was totally surprised. By November in New England most boats are removed from the water and stored. In La Rochelle, because of the milder climate it is not the case, boats are mostly left on the docks. Well not only was the Mahe on the docks but so were several other boats tied up along side. Crazy. Well there is a certain nonchalance about the French….
Within 15 minutes, boats were moved and I was aboard for the ride, along with Gregor, Larry, [from Vancouver buying another Cat] and Alain the Captain. The conditions were great, a constant 18-22-knot breeze. We motored out, put a reef in the main, unrolled the jib, and we were sailing. My experiences are mostly with the Corsair boats, driven from the nets with a tiller. Sitting at the wheel felt more like driving, the response is duller but the view, c’est fantastique, meaning it is a dry ride with all controls readily available- winches, sheets, blocks, all within 3 feet of the helm. After a few minutes and some sail adjustments we were beginning to get it dialed in. The motion is very friendly. I am driving a train barreling down the tracks. Steady, very little motion except forward. We are going between 8-9 knots to windward with a reef in the main. We played for the next 2 hours, reaches, runs, beats, the bay had a slight chop, no pounding, no slapping, very steady. Towards the end of the ride we were surrounded by a windsurfer team, healthy, beautiful French people in wet/dry suits buzzing by at speed. They were like dolphins bursting by. As we traveled thru this human pod, Alain told me to stay my course, they were very good and besides it would be bad form for them to run into a sailboat. The tide was up which, gave us the opportunity to sail into the Old Harbor. Gliding past the two towers into the small historic harbor was special treat, some frosting for the cake.
The advantages of twin diesel engines became apparent once we were getting back into the marina. We backed down, attached a rear line to another boat pulled forward tied off. Alain made it look very easy.
I was thirsty, I was happy, I was in financial trouble. Let’s have some drinks and get something to eat. I had come to town to test sail a boat and tour the factory, these things I had done, it was now or maybe never. I knew I wanted the boat before I got there, I found no defects, no questions unanswered, no unsolved mysteries, just a fist in my stomach from knowing that on one hand, if I did not write a check, I would regret it, and on the other, the realization that the ground I was standing on was trembling and my world as I knew it would be forever altered in what I prayed would be in a wonderful way. There are no certainties in life, only choices, some good some not so good, it was time to make a choice.
After drinks, a meal, and a good night sleep, I meet Gregor in the lobby for a coffee. I had my checkbook, he had the contract, a few things added, a few declined, the price decided. Documents signed, check written, the deal was done.
I will take delivery of my new boat in June of 2008, I will then cruise the Med for the summer, ride across the Atlantic with the ARC in November, work my way North from St. Lucia next winter and arrive in Newport in June of 2009. That is my plan, though still a little anxious I feel much better that a decision has been made, a certain resolution has taken over and a new path has opened.
Shakespeare said: “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt”
Mick Jagger sang “…if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need”